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Virginia Workforce Grants Help Boost Employment During COVID

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Thursday, July 29, 2021   

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. -- With many Virginians still experiencing pandemic-related unemployment, students at a state community college were able to get certifications for industry jobs despite COVID shutdowns.

Martha O'Keefe, associate vice president of workforce and professional development at Germanna Community College, said a state workforce grant program supported some students at the right time.

When COVID hit, the school got creative and quickly moved classes online. Then, for highway construction courses, instructors and administrators collaborated with the Virginia Department of Transportation to give students the required work-skills assessments by teleconferencing.

"We actually worked with some of the employers where the students were employed, and the employers were willing to do the skill checks at their work sites," O'Keefe recounted. "So that was a real plus for the students and the programs."

Some highway construction certifications required pencil- and-paper exams, so Germanna began offering drive-in testing. Some students were able to attend with help from Virginia's New Economy Workforce Grant Program, which provides partial tuition for short-term training courses.

More than 24,000 Virginians have tapped into the grant program since 2016, according to O'Keefe. It offers help with tuition for non-credit training credentials in a range of high-demand fields, including construction, health-care support and transportation.

She pointed out Germanna focuses on helping students get credentials to make better wages.

"For example, in health care we train individuals to become phlebotomists, clinical medical assistants, nurse aides; we are starting with the EMT certification," O'Keefe outlined. "And those certifications in and of themselves will help individuals to land jobs."

The workforce grant program had more than 7,400 students enrolled across the state last year. Germanna had the most, with more than 1,700 enrollments. Of those, about 1,100 students earned credentials for new jobs.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.


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